Gail Simmons

Gail reflects on the neck-and-neck competition between Nina and Nick and why after an arduous Judges Table, Nick came out on top.

on Feb 5 And now let’s talk about Nick’s restaurant and meal. 
GS: Nick’s service varied wildly from when we ate there and when Padma and her group did. There were major issues with service on their end. We definitely heard some noises but we got our food in an acceptable time and didn’t really notice how much of a struggle Nick was having in the kitchen -- except for that one huge lash out that he made.

That said, his first course was really nice. A little underseasoned, a little subtle, but he showed us a really skilled dish. The green apple and wasabi were in a water. The dish was beautiful, it just was a little bit underseasoned so you didn’t get those flavors that you want to burst in your mouth with that fish. Those are really strong flavors -- meyer lemon, green apple, wasabi -- and they just tasted a little bit muted. But it was beautifully presented and beautifully crafted that dish. So it was by no means a failure.

The next dish of his was my favorite dish that he made all night -- this shrimp bisque with scallop and daikon noodles. I loved it and I think a lot of people at the table did too. It had tons of flavor, the bisque was sort of the sauce pooling at the bottom of the plate and it was bursting with flavor. It was rich and you could tell that he made an amazing stock and base. I loved the texture of the noodles. There was heat. There was a great counterpoint with some chilies that he had in the dish. I thought it was fantastic.

Then he had the duck course, which was very complex and very sophisticated, actually. And certainly was much stronger a dish than Nina’s third course. Emeril really had a problem with how his piece of duck was cooked but none of us did at our table. We thought it was cooked well, and he rendered the fat on the duck, which is a really important step when you are first cooking the duck. He did it really well so that the top of the duck was crispy. The squash was sweet. There was crunch, there was a smooth puree. It had everything you wanted in a main course -- it felt very complete, very substantial, and really refined.

And then finally his dessert. He chose to do panna cotta to redeem himself from a previous challenge, the Jacques Pepin Spanish versus French challenge. I wasn’t there for that challenge so I didn’t know how bad his original panna cotta was but I heard from my fellow chefs about it. I have to say I loved this panna cotta. The great part about this panna cotta was that there were so many elements besides the custard itself so that every bite you took was a little bit different. There was a lot of texture. There was fruit. The nuts, the white chocolate. I’m not generally a fan of white chocolate. This incorporation of white chocolate didn’t hit you over the head, didn’t feel too buttery. Sometimes I find white chocolate leaves a film on the roof of your mouth, because it’s really just milkfat and I really liked the way that all his flavors came together. I really like the texture. It felt very tropical. It felt perfect in the Hawaiian setting we were in. It could have had a little more “jiggle” I think, which was some people’s complaint, but ultimately we all licked the bowl clean and that’s a pretty powerful review.